Demographics and Do the Right Thing: A Look at Bedford Stuyvesant by Sydney Beveridge
Spike Lee’s recently re-released Oscar-nominated movie Do the Right Thing takes place on a hot summer day on a single street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Social Explorer lets you use demographic information to examine the block of the film’s Sal’s Famous Pizza to the entire neighborhood.
In Do the Right Thing, Buggin Out greets the main character Mookie with the phrase, “Stay black,” and at the time the neighborhood followed suit. In 1980, the population of Bedford-Stuyvesant was 98% black. Rosie Perez’s character Tina would have been one of the few Latinas in the neighborhood.
Lee portrays the tensions of gentrification with an argument between local resident Buggin Out and a white cyclist who turns out to own a Brownstone on the street. That cyclist would have been one of the five white residents living near Sal’s pizzeria at the time, according to the 1980 Census data.
Gentrification Scene (caution, strong language)
Over the years, more white cyclists, Hispanic and Asian residents moved in and the demographics started shifting. Additionally, the foreign born population of Bedford-Stuyvesant has more than doubled since 1980 to nearly one quarter of resident in 2006.
The newly added 2006 Census estimates also reveal that the neighborhood is now 72% black instead of close to 100% black. (In the 1980s and 1990s, the Census tract had just one Asian American resident, much like in the film where a new Korean market had just opened up across from Sal’s. The number of Asian Americans grew to 11 in 2000, and 42 in 2006.) Yet, the Census tract where the movie took place remains more racially concentrated with over 82% black residents.
Economically, the area has experienced large swings in poverty. In 1970, 34.3% of families on the blocks depicted in the movie lived below poverty. By 1980, that number increased to 44.2 % –three times the Brooklyn-wide poverty rate, and one and a half times the Bedford-Stuyvesant poverty rate. Today, the poverty rate in Bedford-Stuyvesant remains near 30%, which is higher than the rest of Brooklyn (19%), New York State (11%) and the country (10%). Median household income also lags behind the rest of the borough, state and country.
Recent articles about real estate trends in Bedford-Stuyvesant highlight the increased gentrification of the neighborhood. Once referred to as “do or die Bed-Stuy,” the neighborhood has taken on new nicknames, including “Sesame Street.”
Do the Right Thing and demographic data give us a fuller picture of the neighborhood and the changes it has experienced over the decades.